Widemire and Kona have entered numerous competitions and demonstrations, earning accolades along the way. And while he concedes they all have been fun learning experiences and great exercise for the both of them, there remains one larger goal.
“This weekend is qualifying (rounds) for the world championships set in Chattanooga, Tennessee,” he said. “Today (Saturday) is usually more freestyle tricks set to music. We’ve got an entire room of trophies she’s won over the last couple years. Kona hasn’t won the worlds yet, but we’re getting there. Fifty percent (of participants) are from all over the world.
“Maui is getting started, too, but he’s about a year away from competing. He’s got some development yet as far as bone structure, but he’ll be ready. He and Kona are the performers; my other two are more along the herding type. But Kona definitely makes me look good. I’m still working on my skill set. She pretty much catches whatever I throw. It’s a good family event, mixing tricks, speed and agility. My wife, Catherine, and I don’t have kids of our own, so we love participating and entertaining crowds.”
In addition to the popular dog sports element, Working Dog Weekend 2017 highlights public service dogs. Demonstrations also include Hampton Hills Newfoundlands water rescue; Siberian Husky Club of Greater Cleveland; a parade of breeds; Ohio search and recovery dogs; and Lake County Police K-9 training groups.
With constant training, Widemire said there really isn’t an “off-season” for the dogs.
“They don’t give us a choice in the matter. Whether it’s practicing or just play, they have a lot of energy, but you don’t want to work them too hard. At the same time, it’s kind of a dangerous sport, doing some of the things, but most of it is pretty safe if you know how to do it properly.”
Widemire wears only a neoprene vest as protective gear, though he’s got the marks to prove that Kona’s energy training and competing can manifest itself in scratches, clawing and pressured pouncing.
“Even when I’ve been protected, she’s gotten me on a launch from my back, nails digging in,” he said. “But it’s worth it and nice that the people come out and see us, especially kids. I would have loved this as a kid. I was always outside playing flying discs with my dog in the back yard before I even knew what it was or that it was a competitive sport. Then I saw what Border collies were like in this sport and I couldn’t resist. They do amazing work.
“In the sport, one of our guys has a Belgian Malinois, a Dutch shepherd, a German shepherd, and those are big dogs. Man, are they amazing athletes. His dogs have qualified for worlds several times. But I’ve had an Akita and a golden retriever, but with these guys (Kona and Maui), I don’t know if I’ll ever own another breed, because they’re phenomenal dogs. They work, they really crave jobs and if you don’t give it to them, they come and destroy stuff. They need all your attention. You can’t just let them sit.”
While traveling to different tournaments, which isn’t required, Widemire said, the ultimate goal, other than a world championship, is to buy a recreational vehicle.
“I won’t fly my guys. We qualified for UFO (World Cup Frisbee Dog Series) in January which is held in Colorado, but that’s about 24 hours, a lot of driving. Tennessee isn’t too bad at 8 or 10 hours. An RV would be great to hit the road and travel on the weekend. We’ve done Frankenmuth (Michigan) the last two years, which is kind of all the disc dog sports rolled into one. It’s an amazing event that draws about 50,000 in attendance. It’s huge and a lot of fun.
“Novices are always welcome to join us and see what we’re all about, too,” Widemire said, adding the league helps people come along. “You get to meet a lot of good people. We always encourage people to come out and give it a try. It gives you a lot of time to bond with your dog. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Compared to other dog sports, it’s probably the least expensive.”
Farmpark Event Manager Andy McGovern describes Working Dog Weekend as a staple event.
“It’s a unique, interactive dog experience for people,” he said. “If you have a dog, or even if you don’t have a dog, you cannot, not like this event. I love it. It’s fun. Farming and dogs go together. They have jobs on the farm. That’s why Farmpark does it. In your community, there are public service dogs that work. From public service dogs, to K-9 officers and search and rescue dogs, they perform important tasks.”
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